Working trip to Gomel Oblast

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Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko made a working visit to Buda-Koshelevo District, Gomel Oblast on 24 November.

Arriving in the town of Buda-Koshelevo, Aleksandr Lukashenko, first of all, paid attention that the district center is all tidied up. According to the President, local residents and enterprises should maintain the order while the task of the authorities is to organize this work. “It is not only the authorities. This is the job of people living here. They should tidy the town up and keep it this way. This is their home. The government should spearhead this work,” the President said.

During the visit to the Buda-Koshelevo Central District House of Culture, Aleksandr Lukashenko was reported on the social and economic development, improvement of the district centers and settlements of Gomel Oblast.

The gross regional product in January-October increased by 2.5%, Gomel Oblast Governor Vladimir Dvornik reported to Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Gomel Oblast ranks third in the country in terms of economic growth, behind Minsk Oblast and Brest Oblast.

The President inquired about the performance of the region’s biggest industrial companies. “All of them are showing growth, except for the oil refinery,” said Vladimir Dvornik. Vice Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko noted that the modernization of the Mozyr Oil Refinery is ahead of schedule. The government expects the company to reach the designed capacity by the end of the year.

The head of state inquired whether the Belarusian Steel Works overcame the recession. Vladimir Semashko replied that the company has been ramping up the production volume and is set to reach the pre-crisis level in 2018.

During the visit to the Central District Hospital, the head of state urged to pay greater attention to healthcare facilities in district centers and small towns. “We have some imbalance in this field. We perform highest-level surgeries but what the situation in small towns is? It's time to pay more attention to these issues,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the optimization of the healthcare system in the country in general and in the districts in particular remains an important issue and cannot be removed from the agenda. He drew attention to the need to ensure access to healthcare services for all, regardless of where a person lives, in a big city or a small town. Along with this, the president demanded that everything should be optimal, that a rational approach should be applied to everything. The state will continue to pay great attention to the development of healthcare, but everything should be done in the most expedient way, Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The head of state was taken on a tour of the Buda-Koshelevo Central District Hospital and was shown modern medical equipment. Aleksandr Lukashenko talked to medical workers and patients of the hospital. The president was briefed on the provision of medical care in Gomel Oblast, especially in the areas that were hit the worst by the Chernobyl disaster, including Buda-Koshelevo District.  

The program of the trip included visits to social facilities and meetings with locals. An off-schedule meeting took place when Aleksandr Lukashenko suddenly came up to the people who gathered on account of the president’s visit to Buda-Koshelevo. The head of state inquired about people’s concerns.

Aleksandr Lukashenko was warmly greeted by local citizens. They expressed some wishes to make the town a more comfortable place. In particular, they drew attention to difficulties with crossing the railroad. Aleksandr Lukashenko gave instructions to the district administration to look into these problems and adopt the necessary decisions taking into account the interests of people.

Speaking about the increase in pensions, Aleksandr Lukashenko said:”If we work harder and promote the economic growth, the pensions will be increasing too”.

When visiting the district Center, the President talked to representatives of the media. Journalists, in particular, asked why the Belarusian delegation at Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels was led by Minister of Foreign Affair Vladimir Makei. “There is no conspiracy here. There are no Russian, American, Ukrainian traces either,” the head of state clarified. “We received a personal invitation to attend the summit. It was addressed to the president, just like in the previous years. However, it is the minister of foreign affairs who has always visited these summits. Probably, some people did not really want to see me in the European Union, but this is ancient history already. The point is that all of my international visits and working trips are planned a year in advance to fit together with domestic events,” the president clarified.

“When we were arranging the trip to Buda-Koshelevo, we knew that the EaP summit would take place this day in late November. We have not received any invitations by that moment, so we planned the visit of the minister of foreign affairs six months before the summit or even earlier. Closer to the summit date, the EU suddenly wanted to see the Belarus president in Brussels. It is good that they finally understood: there cannot be a Europe without Belarus. By the way, this is what the German foreign minister said: you are the center of Europe, what is Europe without Belarus?” Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled.

According to him, the current visit to Buda-Koshelevo District of Gomel Oblast was planned beforehand but was postponed three times.

“This is why there is no conspiracy and no secrets. Everything happened just as we planned,” Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined. He stressed that some recent information on the internet is not true. In his words, there were no reasons to send to Brussels someone else rather than the minister. “This is his job, and he can handle it,” the head of state added.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also shared his opinion on prospects for Belarus-EU relations. He once again cited the German foreign minister who said in public that he wants to see Belarus as a connecting link between East and West. “This is what we have always stated: we will have proper relations with Europe because we are the heart of Europe ourselves. Our role and our future are to be a link, if Europe wants it. And we see that it does want it. We are at your service. We have our own interests, our people. Our interests do not contradict the European ones. Our people are not a burden for Europeans. They have never caused any problems for anyone. Belarus will never be a source of troubles for Europe,” the President reassured.

“If you want to see us as a real bridge between East and West, you have to respect us and our interests,” Aleksandr Lukashenko underlined. The role of Belarus as a bridge between East and West, he said, is evident through the example of well-organized rail freight traffic between China and Europe, which crosses the Belarusian territory.

“I have quietly gone through the period when we had many problems with Europe. But I want my nation and its interests to be respected. Europe has understood this,” Aleksandr Lukashenko highlighted.

According to the President, Belarus will develop the cooperation with Europe. “They have cutting-edge technologies that we need. We are interested in them, we get them. We have an interest in the European market. Given the demand for Belarusian goods (mechanical engineering products, meat, milk), the export to Europe can bring a lot of profit,” the head of state remarked.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that such products should bring mutual benefit.

The President was also asked to comment on the recent arrest of Ukrainian spies in Belarus. Aleksandr Lukashenko said he discussed the situation with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko during the meeting in the United Arab Emirates in early November 2017. Aleksandr Lukashenko laid down facts in response to Petro Poroshenko’s question. “I admitted that I knew about the operation to neutralize the spy network from the first day through the last day. It is how things are done. The KGB chief briefed me about it right away,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The head of state said that during the meeting in the UAE Aleksandr Lukashenko and Petro Poroshenko reached an agreement to keep the matter out of the public limelight but later on the Ukrainian side broke its word. “They raised hysteria and leaked everything to mass media. What could I do? I went back on my decision and gave instructions to present some facts to mass media to make people understand we are not trying to crank up tensions in relations with Ukraine. We showed what we had. This man confessed where he had worked and how. A lot of additional materials are available. I don’t know why this scandal was necessary. But they broke our agreement,” stressed Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The president noted that there was no Moscow trace in this situation and looking for one is a futile endeavor.

People involved in the spy situation are facing charges in accordance with the law, stated Aleksandr Lukashenko. “I understand this colonel, who worked under the guise of a reporter. Many countries do things like that, letting intelligence officers operate under the guise of reporters and diplomats. I’ve encountered it many times. But how are we to understand a Belarusian citizen, who worked for a foreign intelligence service for peanuts albeit the Ukrainian intelligence service?” wondered Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Journalists also raised the issue of the death penalty due to the recent arrival of Andrea Rigoni, Rapporteur on Belarus of the PACE Political Affairs and Democracy Committee, to Belarus. “People voted in the death penalty referendum, and I have no right to overrule this decision,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Should we want to do so, then we must hold a referendum,” the President said.

“If we take this issue to a referendum, I don't need to tell you what the result will be. You know it yourselves,” the Belarusian leader said. “When meeting with the German foreign minister I said to him that if Germany takes this issue to a referendum at a time when Europe and many countries are exposed to terrorist attacks you know, what the outcome will be. People see that death penalty may be a strong disincentive for some ‘hot heads’. So I tell him that maybe Europeans will soon turn to our experience,” he said.

“With regard to death penalty, I asked him a question: you are big friends with some countries in the Middle East and other regions, the United States. Why do not you ask them the things that you want from Belarus? He would not answer. Therefore, I think we will come to an agreement in this regard,” the President said.

The head of state also noted that there are a lot of issues related to security in the world and in the region. Belarus is playing a big role and can play an even bigger one. “Today Belarus is a quiet, orderly, dignified country, a kind of donor of security on the European continent and its status is raising in Europe,” the head of state believes. “We see, we hear, we appreciate it and we will always go halfway to accommodate the interests of the European states if we are not made to choose (as it was before, not anymore) between Russia or Europe,” he said.

The president said that “Russians are our brothers”. “Are they good or bad? You do not choose brothers. They may not like us in some things either. But we are kindred people. Therefore, there is no asking us the question who you are with. We will be friends with Europe, we will be working with Europe, but Russia is dear and very important to us,” the head of state noted.

The Belarusian head of state was also asked to express his opinion on the prospects of electric car making in Belarus. “We have to make electric cars. I count on the ability of the Chinese side to create electric cars together with us at the Geely factory. Specialists of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus are already seriously working on these cars,” noted Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The President said that creating a battery to move the car for 500-600km at 100kmph is the biggest challenge. “We will do it. Either with the Chinese side or on our own. But I would like to do it together with China,” said the head of state.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said that driving vehicles is his hobby. “I’ve driven all kinds of tractors, automobiles, and trucks. Even the old GAZ-51 truck and the MTZ-50 truck. They were my first experience in the kolkhoz. My elder brother worked like that. I tried applying fertilizers. It was not a simple operation. It was my first work. But electric cars are more than a hobby. I would like Belarus to have an electric car of its own design,” stressed the President.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said that electric cars are a recent fashionable trend. “Countries have set concrete goals before them. Germany and the UK, which relied on automobiles with internal combustion engines in the past, understand now that electric cars are unavoidable, that electric cars are clean and represent future. They are switching to electric cars either by 2025 or by 2030. We have set up a new manufacturing facility. It is necessary to make electric cars in parallel,” believes the President.

The head of state noted he had tried driving a Tesla electric car himself. “It can travel at any speed. Honestly speaking, when I hit 280kmph, I was afraid it could take off. An aircraft takes off and lands with speeds like that. A very good car,” he noted.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also spoke in positive terms about the first Belarusian car made by the BelGee factory. “A good automobile. Not because I am the president and it is our car. It is a decent car. I am very sensitive about things like that. The best thing is that it is a Belarus-made car, it can be repaired locally,” stressed the head of state.

Representatives of Chinese companies presented Aleksandr Lukashenko with a Geely electric car when the head of state visited the BelGee car factory. On 24 November Aleksandr Lukashenko noted he intends to test the car next weekend. “I think it will be a good car for the mass market with a bit of improvement. We will try to create our own electric car. Even more so because we will have a surplus of electricity once we commission the nuclear power plant,” concluded the President.